There is a misconception that the Middle East is all about Arab culture. But they’re wrong. In the Middle East, there are Arab countries, then, there are countries like Türkiye. Türkiye is a beautiful country. No wonder many travelers keep coming back here. This country is known for its rich history, delectable cuisine, and sceneries from beaches to mountains. It is home to great cities like Ankara, Antalya, Fethiye, and Bursa. But perhaps a city that stands out from the rest is Istanbul. There are so many things to do in Istanbul.
Istanbul is touted as a magical meeting place that spans two continents, filled with various attractions aside from just its minarets. This Turkish city is a captivating tapestry of just timeless enchantment. With its backstory that spans millennia, this luminous city serves as a bridge between the East and the West. Istanbul’s skyline is adorned with minarets and domes, and its streets echo with the energetic rhythm of a thriving metropolis. And who would forget about the sparkling waters of the Bosphorus mingling with its ancient cobblestones? So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go ahead and explore the best things to do in Istanbul.
10 Best Things To Do In Istanbul
Pack your bags. Here are the best things to do in Istanbul.
1. Be Mesmerized By The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque
Ankara may be the capital of Türkiye, but some of the most beautiful sights are outside the city, such as in Istanbul. The first on the list of the things to do in Istanbul is to be mesmerized by the grandeur of Hagia Sophia. Yes, when you think about Türkiye, you’ll think about this landmark.
The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque is one of the surviving architectural marvels of the venerable Byzantine Empire. Situated right at the heart of Istanbul’s historic center, this sacred piece remains an essential symbol of power even until today.
Did you know this architectural masterpiece has gone through a lot of things? In 537, Byzantine Emperor Justinian commissioned it. In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II converted it into a mosque. In 1935, Türkiye’s founding father, Atatürk, declared it into a museum. And in 2020, it was reconverted into a working mosque.
But no matter what its story is, during your visit here, be sure to climb up to its gallery and see the breathtaking Byzantine mosaics, and gaze up at its ceiling to see the great dome that seems to hover underneath the light’s reflection.
2. Head Over To Topkapı Palace, Once The Resident Of The Sultans
Located a few moments away from Hagia Sophia is Topkapı Palace. Visiting Topkapı Palace is also another of the must-try things to do in Istanbul.
The palace has been said to be the subject of more vivacious stories than most of the museums around the world merged together. Between the 1400s and 1800s, when it was still the Ottoman Empire’s court, sultans, courtiers, concubines, and eunuchs used to live and work here. During your visit here, you can almost feel their presence through the palace’s opulent pavilions, jewel-dotted Treasury, and sprawling Harem, the place where the sultan could engage in debauchery at will.
When you’re here, don’t forget to stop by the ornate structure in the cobbled square before entering the Imperial Gate. This structure is the rococo-themed Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, constructed in 1728 by the sultan who loved tulips.
3. See Religious Mosaics And Frescoes At Kariye Museum
Istanbul is laden with beautiful Byzantine monuments, but only very few are as drop dead gorgeous as its museum and church. Yes, it is a church and a museum at the same time. Kariye Museum nestles in the shadow of the monumental land walls of Byzantine emperor Theodosius II, and offers fascinating insights into the empire’s art.
Today, the church has five main architectural units: the nave, the two-storied annexe added to the north, the inner and outer narthexes, and the chapel for tombs to the south. During your visit, you can marvel at the mosaics, such as those that depict the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and the frescoes, such as those that tackle themes of death and resurrection.
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4. Süleymaniye Mosque
As you explore the many things to do in Istanbul, expect that you’ll always come across different mosques. You’ve learned about Hagia Sophia, and this time, you’ll be introduced to the Süleymaniye Mosque. Aside from the Byzantine Empire, another empire that ruled this area is the Ottoman Empire, and this mosque is a product of their conquest.
The Süleymaniye Mosque crowns one of the seven hills of Istanbul, and dominates the Turkish estuary of the Golden Horn, offering a landmark for the whole city. It may not be the largest of the Ottoman mosques, but it is, without question, one of the grandest and most beautiful.
Built in the 16th century after being commissioned by its namesake, Süleyman I – the Ottoman Empire’s longest-reigning sultan – this magnificent structure features several gardens and a sizable dome, not to mention sophisticated finishes such as the mother-of-pearl window shutters, painted corbels, stained glass windows, and traditional ceramic tiles. Prepare to be amazed.
5. Get A Taste Of Authentic Turkish Cuisine
Türkiye’s culinary scene is not just their own, as their recipes have been influenced by various cultures and civilizations that have touched down here, such as flavors from Central Asia, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
Among the most popular Turkish food are the pide flatbread, lamb, Imam Bayildi or stuffed eggplant, dolma or stuffed vegetables, olive oil dishes, meze that include various spreads – from hummus to tzatziki – the baklava dessert, Türk kahvesi or Turkish coffee, and the yogurt-based drink ayran, among many others.
Some of the best restaurants where you can get a taste of authentic Turkish cuisine while you’re here in Istanbul are Massa Bistro, Gulhane Sark SofrasI, Resto Ethnica, Las Tapas Restaurant, Three Partners Cafe & Restaurant, Lale Sultan Restaurant, and By Ferro Fish & Kebab House.
6. Go On A Private Tour Around Istanbul’s Old City
Istanbul is filled with rich history and stories from the past. So what better way to understand all of these than by going on a private tour around Istanbul’s Old City? Travelers are starting to realize the benefits of private tours as they give them the freedom to choose what they want to do and according to their time convenience. With private tours, you don’t have to consider the needs of other travelers, providing you more room for flexibility and changes to your itinerary as you wish.
In this private tour around Istanbul’s Old City, you’ll step into the golden games of the Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman empires that ruled this place. Some of the destinations of the tour are the Hippodrome Square, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, and Topkapı. Tradition at its finest. This is one of the things to do in Istanbul that you should not skip.
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7. Get A Relaxing Turkish Bath
Another feature that Türkiye is known for is the Turkish bath or hammam. A Turkish bath is a kind of steam bath or refers to a place for public bathing associated with Islamic culture. One of the fun things to do in Istanbul is to relax at a hammam. These famous Turkish bath houses were a popular fixture during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and today, these hammams continue to be widely visited by locals and tourists.
You can opt for a scrub and soap massage, and after which, you can use the sauna and the pool, or just go for the scrub and massage.
8. Visit The Famous Blue Mosque
Rivaling the beauty and grandeur of Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, so visiting this place is also a must-try things to do in Istanbul. Since the early 17th century, the Blue Mosque has been quite a sight to behold. It features an array of domes, semi domes, and narrow towers. Many tourists make sure to visit the Blue Mosque while they’re in Istanbul.
However, since the Blue Mosque is an active religious site, you should dress in the right code. For instance, women must wear headscarves, as is customary. If you do not have one, the mosque can lend you a headscarf.
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9. Experience The Nightlife In Istanbul
Istanbul’s nightlife is pulsating with energy. It may not be like Ibiza in Spain, but its vibrant nightlife is also something the place is proud of. Bars, nightclubs, and jazz clubs are open until the wee hours of the night, and one of the best things to do in Istanbul is go check them out.
If you crave for something local, you can proceed to venues that host bands performing Turkish-style rock, or the more traditional fasıl or Ottoman classic music. You can do these while munching on some delicious Turkish and international cuisines that the venues serve.
Some of the best nightlife spots in Istanbul are the Nardis Jazz Club, Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi, Leb-i Derya, and Balkon Restaurant & Bar.
10. Cruise On The Bosphorus
Looking for sentimental things to do in Istanbul? Why don’t you cruise on the Bosphorus Strait. Bosphorus is an important strait in Türkiye. It is the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation.
Cruising down the strait is an unforgettable experience as you get to see much of the city. This activity is also very affordable, since you can take a public ferry as you enjoy viewing Istanbul’s sights. If you want to pamper yourself a bit, you can choose to take private tours.
There you have it. The top things to do in Istanbul. But wait up, we got more for you.
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Things To Do In Istanbul: Stay At The Best Hotel
If you really want to enjoy the many things to do in Istanbul, you should know that things can really get tiring. So, as much as possible, you would want to stay at the best hotel while you’re here in Istanbul. Sure, budget travelers would look for hostels, but it will still be worth your investment to stay at a hotel. Here are some of the best hotels in this Turkish city, so you can make the most out of the things to do in Istanbul.
- The Peninsula Istanbul
- Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Beşiktaş
- Six Senses Kocatas Mansions, Sariyer
- Ecole St Pierre Hotel
- Soho House Istanbul, Beyoğlu
- Sumahan on the Water
- Splendid Palace Hotel, Büyükada
- Pera Palace Hotel
- Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
- Raffles Istanbul, Besiktas
With these information, you are more than ready to explore the best things to do in Istanbul.
Discover Istanbul Today
Perhaps if you plan to visit and try the things to do in Istanbul, you’ll think that everything here is about the mosques. While mosques are all over this city – you can find several mosques around, since the major religion here is Islam – there are many other things to do in Istanbul other than these.
Istanbul is also filled with dining and shopping experiences, as well as activities that are truly fun and memorable. Few cities on Earth come close to Istanbul. This Turkish city is one of the greatest cities in the world, unique at every angle. It also happens to be absolutely massive, featuring a chaotic metropolis that won’t ever slow down.
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